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How Zoom Colonized Our Lives | #socialmedia | #hacking | #facebook | #cybersecurity | #informationsecurity


Zoom is far from the only app to benefit from the pandemic; Covid-19 has brought with it a wave of heightened digital dependence, as yoga classes, grocery shopping, and church services—to say nothing of office work and school—migrate from the real world (or, as tech geeks call it, “meatspace”) to Zoom—or to Houseparty, Instagram Live, and any number of other apps that have garnered a host of users during the pandemic.

This transition brings a welter of online privacy and security issues. As Zuboff has written, there are hidden trade-offs in digital life. We are accustomed to sacrificing privacy to use certain devices and programs, and by forcing millions of users onto new online services, the current emergency could send that dynamic into destructive new territory. But it could also start a conversation about whether relinquishing that privacy is really necessary.


In a heartening twist, in late March, Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, reached out to Searls for a talk. During their conversation, Searls told me, Yuan seemed “blindsided” by how quickly Zoom had exploded. (The company had gone from having 10 million users in December to 200 million in March.) Zoom charges businesses between $14.99 and $19.99 per month per host—for large firms, that can put the cost of a monthly subscription in the thousands; it doesn’t need to be in the business of spying on users at all. And yet it had left the door open to just those practices. An “attention-tracking” feature let the host of a meeting—say, a teacher or work supervisor—see if you clicked away to another window; and, as Searls pointed out, Zoom’s privacy policy had used the same standard, “weaselly” language that apps adopt if they want to gather data.

On April 8, Zoom held its first “Ask Eric Anything” session. Appearing in front of a virtual background of the Golden Gate Bridge, Yuan began by acknowledging that there had been some “missteps.” The company’s business had not just increased, he said; it had changed. Founded in 2011 and launched in 2013, Zoom had been designed for business meetings and web­inars—not telemedicine and kindergarten. Yuan said that the “attention-tracking” feature, for example, was appropriate in some business contexts, but for many new consumers, it presented a privacy conflict. “We disabled it entirely,” he said. The company also announced a number of additional changes—from fixing bugs to overhauling its privacy policy and creating a special set of privacy rules for K-12 users. It also ramped up its “bug bounty” program, bringing on a slew of cryptographers to identify any security weaknesses hiding in its code.

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